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Hire with Your Head

23 Feb, 2016 By: Troy Harrison, Salesforce Solutions

Are you hiring with your head or your gut? When it comes to hiring salespeople, the majority of bad or mistaken hires are caused by hiring with the gut rather than the head.  Why is this? Let’s look at a few misconceptions, and how they can ruin the hiring process:

Misconception 1:  “I hire athletes because they’re competitive.”  How, exactly, this misconception became part of the sales hiring “knowledge base,” I’m not sure, but it definitely has.  The problem is that athletic prowess doesn’t coordinate to selling prowess. Selling is an activity of thought and persuasion.  Athletics are a pursuit of physical prowess and feats.  Yes, I know there’s a mental aspect, too – but if you’re wondering about a correlation, let me put it this way: if a former football player can demonstrate that he is able to take the ball in his hand, and using his words and personality, persuade the other team to let him cross the goal line, then I’ll buy into the idea that there is a correlation.

I heard this one a few years ago from a recruiting client. He proudly said to me, “I want you to hire someone who’s played team sports. They’re overly competitive. All of my successes have come from hiring athletes.”  Well, I did a little investigating and discovered that he exclusively hired athletes – which meant that all of his failures had come from hiring athletes, too; and his success ratio was 40%. So I recruited him a nerdy girl. She was very cerebral and a big Star Trek fan, and liked role-playing games on the weekends. It took her all of eight months to become his top salesperson. Why? Because she was so cerebral that she was quickly able to grasp what her customers needed, could quickly figure out the right product, and knowledgeably persuade the customer to buy.  That’s sales.  And she changed his hiring patterns, and he is far more successful now.

Misconception 2: “We need industry experience in our hires.”  If there’s anything that is a predictor of a failed hire, it’s a search for having “industry experience.”  One of my clients used to have a very basic hiring system. If you walked into their office and said that you worked for one of their two biggest competitors, you were hired. Period. The end result was that they had the worst sales force in the market. Why?  They overrated “industry experience.” It was so seductive that it seemingly presented a shortcut.  “Aha,” the hiring manager thinks, “I can bypass all the time I’d otherwise spend teaching this salesperson my type business, and get right to the selling.” It’s tempting.  The trouble is that, normally, you’re getting the people that your competitor is glad to get rid of – which means that their potential (and yours) is limited.  You’re far better off getting people who have the potential (in terms of skills and traits) to become a top performer in your industry, while living with the short-term period of getting them up and running.

Misconception 3: “If they interview well, they’ll sell the same way.”  This one is particularly seductive because it’s so logical.  An interview is a sales call, right?  So, why wouldn’t we see a mirroring between someone’s behavior on an interview and a sales call?  Well, it has to do with mindset. More accurately, how someone behaves on an interview is the best case scenario of how they will behave on a sales call.  However, when you’re trying to gauge how they will behave on a sales call, dial your expectations back about 10-20 percent.

Misconception 4:  “Hiring in your own image.”  This might be the worst and most dangerous of the misconceptions. We love to look for ourselves in our employees, protégé’s, and applicants – and when we see those traits, we forget everything else.  Full disclosure:  I did this early in my sales management career – and it was one of the most epically bad hires that I can recall.

Misconception 5: “Turning bad into worse.” Once we’ve committed one of the mistakes mentioned, we almost always make it worse – we double down on the misconception and hang onto the person even long after our head tells us that it’s time to let go. I kept the guy I referred to for a year, even when I knew that it wasn’t going to work.  Why?  Because I was emotionally involved.

So, how can we keep ourselves safe from these misconceptions and move toward hiring with our head?  Here are two quick techniques you can implement immediately that will improve your hiring:

First, be the bouncer.  Have you ever been to one of those velvet-rope nightclubs where they have the big guy with a clipboard determining who gets in and who stays out?  They have a very simple philosophy.  When someone walks up, they first seek to exclude them, rather than including them.  They have a general idea in their head of what people they want to let in – and they evaluate new additions to the line based on if they do, or don’t, live up to that standard.  And if that’s you – unless your name is on the clipboard – you won’t get it.

So to start, look for red flags – reasons to exclude the applicant from the hiring process. Make a list of “deal breakers” that are indicative of traits that will lead to failure in the job.  Then make a list of questions designed to reveal those deal breakers – and when you spot one, pay attention and exclude the candidate!  We fail because we seek to include first. 

Second, use a psychometric profileIf you really want to get to know your new candidate, use some sort of a psychometric profile to reveal their traits.  A quality profile should include the ability to match success patterns of your job to the traits of the employee.  By doing this, you can again divorce “gut” hiring from “mental” hiring.

Hiring with your head isn’t easy. But to succeed in the hiring process, it’s essential.

Troy Harrison is the author of “Sell Like You Mean It!”, “The Pocket Sales Manager,” and a Speaker, Consultant, and Sales Navigator. Troy helps companies build more profitable and productive sales forces with cutting-edge sales training and methodologies. For detailed information or his weekly E-zine, phone 913-645-3603, e-mail Troy@TroyHarrison.com, or visit www.TroyHarrison.com

About the Author: Troy Harrison

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